Shop and chill eco-system.

When was the last time a visit to a store felt fun and not purely transactional? And how many times have you thought that the same transaction could have been done online, with a page on your computer screen providing the personal touch a massive store never can. With e-commerce sites constantly upgrading their interface and international brands setting up large stores, the urban Indian customer is spoilt for choice. If you wanted to buy a cotton linen shirt for summer, for instance, there are literally a hundred different options to explore.

Brand value

For Indian retailers then, the problem of creating and maintaining a mindspace for a brand has never been more important. And the key to doing this may rest with a more innovative approach to the physical brick-and-mortar store —re-imagining it as a space for customers to relax and buy into a carefully-curated ‘experience’, rather than feeling that they’re visiting a glorified warehouse.
This is not a new idea, and conversations around retail in the West have increasingly come to focus on concept stores that get customers to spend more time browsing. One of the best known examples of this is Colette, a store in Paris that contains an exhibition space, bookshop and a ‘water bar’ that serves more than 100 brands of bottled water.
Last weekend in Delhi, perhaps a sign that experience retail is about to come of age in India, Fabindia launched a five-storey experience centre, spread out over 10,000 square feet.
Besides housing the entire Fabindia range of clothing, home and lifestyle products, it also has an interior design studio, an organic Indian wellness centre, alteration studio, kids zone and a café. The wellness centre has a room where a dietary counsellor advises customers on Organic India products they can buy, as well as a wellness room, where you can get a head massage after shopping. The café, meanwhile, serves a range of organic food from Punjabi saag, quinoa-stuffed paranthas, to salads and smoothies, while the kids zone is obviously a nice touch. If successful, Fabindia plans to roll out 40 such centres across the country over the next 18 months.
The idea of incorporating dining spaces in retail shops was pioneered in India by luxury brand Good Earth, with the Latitude Cafe in Delhi and The Tasting Room in Mumbai. According to Good Earth founder, Anita Lal, the idea of a shopping ‘experience’ has been part of the DNA of the brand for 20 years, with attention being given to details like the fragrance used in stores and the music that is played.

That same ethos has filtered through to Nicobar, a home and apparel offshoot of Good Earth launched last year, that showcases a more languid style. Everything about Nicobar, from store location to design, is carefully curated to feature a particular experience. “The first step is in choosing a location where there isn’t an inherent sense of busyness and constant footfalls,” says Nirmal Kaur, head of brand and marketing at Nicobar.

Buy, eat, chill

These ideas come together best in Nicobar’s largest store, spread over 3,200 square feet in Bengaluru. The outlet features a giant communal table and customers are encouraged to spend time in the store and read from a carefully-curated selection of books.
The idea of travel is central to Nicobar’s vibe, and the store has a postbox where customers can send out postcards that Nicobar will mail for them. There’s even a screen in the store for movie night or concerts for small groups.
The store as a destination is also what Delhi-based leather goods brand Nappa Dori hopes to create. The brand’s 1,200-square-foot space in Colaba is currently testing a concept called Cafe Dori, a counter serving gourmet brewsthat also has around it a space for customers to sit and read from a selection of indie design magazines on offer. According to Nappa Dori’s founder Gautam Sinha, it’s part of creating an eco-system to cater to a certain lifestyle. “It’s about experiencing the space and not just about selling the product,’ he concludes.
Story as it appeared.